BOISE — After facing tough questions and criticism from the media earlier this season when his group struggled, it was only fair for Boise State offensive line coach Tim Keane to get a chance to gloat a little bit this week.
Boise State’s beleaguered offensive line had by far its best game of the season last week in a 26-17 upset win at No. 10 BYU
“It was awesome to see those guys play with some confidence, communicate and establish a mentality,” Keane said. “It was really fun to watch.”
Injuries have decimated Boise State’s offensive line through six games. Starting center Kekaniokoa Holomalia-Gonzalez has missed all six games due to an undisclosed injury, which offensive coordinator Tim Plough admitted had a “ripple effect” on the rest of the group.
Guard Jake Stetz, a member of the preseason All-Mountain West team, was injured during the opener against UCF and missed the next game against UTEP. Guard Garrett Curren has also missed multiple games as well.
The Broncos have tried two different centers, Donte Harrington and Will Farrar, and have used different starters at both guard spots and right tackle. The only player to start every game at the same spot is left tackle John Ojukwu.
The results were predictably poor early in the season as the Broncos struggled to run the ball and gave up too many sacks. But the combination of Ojukwu at left tackle, Stetz at left guard, Farrar at center, Ben Dooley at right guard and Uzo Osuji at right tackle started together for the second straight game against BYU — and it paid off.
Boise State allowed just one sack — which Plough said was quarterback Hank Bachmeier’s fault — and the Broncos had two players with at least 50 rushing yards apiece for the first time all season.
The result? An upset road win over the No. 10 team in the country.
“It has not been easy for those guys,” Plough said. “We tell them to control what you’re putting into your mind. Make sure what you are taking in is positive. Turn off your Twitter, don’t read some of the stories being written — stay away from that stuff and focus on the process of being better.
“Tim Keane has obviously been thrown through the ringer and he’s working his butt off to get this stuff fixed and we’re all working together to get it figured out. ... They did a great job.”
A big reason for the success, according to the coaches, was the decision to move Stetz from right guard to left guard. That put Boise State’s two best and most experienced linemen next to each other the past two games.
Late in the game when Boise State needed to run the ball, Plough said he continued to call plays to the left because of the success those two were having together.
“Those guys have a super bond and they trust each other,” Keane said. “They did a great job winning the pre-snap and communicating and identifying the front and making all the calls. Stetz and OJ have been playing together for so long that they can efficiently communicate and that was a huge help. It allowed them to get off the ball and be physical.”
Plough said he saw tears in Ojukwu’s eyes after the game — which reinforced to the offensive coordinator just how much his players care and how much the upset win over BYU meant to him.
It’s unknown when or if Holomalia-Gonzalez or Curran will return, so the Broncos figure to role with the same group for a third straight game against Air Force on Saturday. Coaches are hoping for even more improvement.
“By no means have we accomplished anything,” Plough said. “We can still run the ball better and play better offense. It’s going back to the drawing board and seeing if we can get a little better this week.”
It’s typical for an offensive lineman to get all the blame when things go wrong and no praise when things go right. But coaches and players know that going in.
After weeks of criticism directed their way, Keane and company are certainly enjoying the role reversal this week. And they should.
“Everything we do is in the shadows — that’s just part of the lifestyle and you have to embrace it and love that,” Keane said. “We talk about it all the time. It’s just us in this room and the guys in the locker room. Those are the opinions that matter most.
“Those are the guys we’re trying to win their trust, and hopefully over the course of the year we can continue to earn everyone’s trust and continue to play well.”